‘Centre afraid’, says Sharad Pawar as NIA takes over Bhima Koregaon case
Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh has accused the central government of taking a unilateral decision to transfer the probe into the Bhima Koregaon violence case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) while Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar said the Centre handed over the case in haste because “they were afraid that truth will come out”.
“The state has all the right to probe this matter. What was the reason to transfer the case in haste? They were afraid that truth will come out,” Pawar told reporters in Mumbai.
Defending the intellectuals, he also said that speaking against injustice is not Maoism. “It will be unfair to put people in jail by labelling them Maoists,” he said.
Shortly before Pawar spoke, Deshmukh told a local television channel on Saturday, “The Bhima Koregaon violence case was handed over to the NIA without taking the state’s consent. There was no communication made from the Centre before transferring the case. The decision has come at a time when we were trying to find out the real reason behind the case. We were also ensuring that no innocent should be convicted but Centre unilaterally transferred the case to the NIA which is against the Constitution.”
Deshmukh’s statement assumes significance in the wake of Pawar’s recent letter chief minister Uddhav Thackeray demanding a probe by a special investigation team (SIT) in the case. The NCP chief had said the erstwhile BJP-led government “abused” its power to book activists and called the arrests of activists a conspiracy.
Pawar had alleged that the action against them appeared vengeful and wrong and needed to be probed by an SIT headed by a judge or senior bureaucrat. He also alleged that few senior officials from the Pune Police commissionerate had “misused their power” and needed to be investigated.
At a press conference last month, Pawar had demanded that the government appoint an independent probe to thoroughly investigate the case.
Maharashtra’s home department was in the process of appointing a special investigation team to probe the entire episode. As a first step, Deshmukh and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar held a meeting with home department officials on Thursday.
The home minister also said that they will take legal advice before taking next step after the Centre transferred the case to the NIA. “We will seek legal opinion to decide further course of action,” he said.
Violence had broken out near the Bhima-Koregaon war memorial in Pune on January 1, 2018, leaving one dead and several others injured. Dalits visit the memorial in large numbers as it commemorates the victory of British forces, which included Dalit Mahar soldiers, over the army of the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of Pune in 1818.
The Pune Police had filed cases against activists and intellectuals linked to Left and Dalit movements, who had given speeches at Elgar Parishad, a gathering held on December 31, 2017. The activists were accused of inciting violence and were picked up in raids across the country. The police had claimed the organisers of the event had Maoist links. The NIA has the power to take over investigations, which it feels has a bearing on national security.
Both the NCP and the Congress have criticised the Centre’s decision, calling it an encroachment on the state’s powers.